Bloomberg’s Health Hypocrisy, Ctd

Many readers keep the debate going:

Your reader with the degree in public health makes a very good point and then misapplies it. No one is trying to "restrict a person's right to a salty meal or a Super Big Gulp." This idea that Bloomberg's ban has anything to do with individual's rights is nonsense; the law is nothing more than a regulation of business practice.

Your reader recommends warning people not to buy big drinks, but I don't see how that is any different. If the government can require a warning label on a dangerous product, that "infringes" my "liberty" to consume it without having to feel guilty about it. Warning labels and cup size restrictions are both merely inconveniences to the consumer in an attempt to make them more aware of what they are consuming, thereby promoting public health.

If you still want a salty meal, go out of your way to order extra fries or add more salt. If you need to drink more soda, buy two sodas. Right now my government prevents me entirely from consuming a harmless substance, marijuana; that is a real invasion of my liberty. I'll be happy to see the day when were debating whether or not the government can restrict how many joints come in one pack.

Another writes:

I've loved reading the Dish on Bloomberg and soda, but I think that you're neglecting the science behind his decision. The science shows that sugar is bad enough to warrant action, even that which seems nannyish. Sugar is a poison.

As your posts on nicotine pointed out, anything can be poisonous at certain levels. What's the threshold for sugar? In the 1980s, the Department of Agriculture estimated it to be 40 pounds per person per year. Americans now consume over 90 pounds per year.

What are the consequences of this? Gary Taubes had an article in the Times Magazine last year in which he provided evidence that the increased consumption of sugar is responsible not only for the rise in obesity and diabetes, but also "heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers."

Bloomberg's is a tiny, cheap measure that may get people to limit the amount of dangerous poison they consume. That sort of limitation isn't ridiculous when it comes to sugar, because nobody's eating those 90 pounds in one sitting. And everyone you've quoted seems to think that the goal of the "ban" is to save from themselves adults who have chosen to drink soda despite its health risks. Nobody has brought up how this measure may affect lifetime eating habits in children.


I am amazed that nobody in the soda-ban debate is addressing the core issue. It's not "freedom" vs. "government interference." It's what to do about the government interference WE ALREADY HAVE. For decades already, the US government has been promoting corn (high fructose corn syrup, animal feed) and cane sugar with direct subsidies and import tariffs. (See Michael Pollan's excellent book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

Another proposes the alternative:

I'm amazed at the capacity of such highly educated people, as your readers, to miss the simplest solution to this problem. Obesity is a negative externality. Governments have a legitimate role in addressing such externalities. Tax high-fructose corn syrup and sugar, the offending inputs, and let people choose a large water at 1/3 the price, if they are thirsty. Size of sodas will then regulate themselves. Any government in the US could use the revenue, as well.


Your reader wrote, "You can hardly find a 12oz soda anywhere these days, and that was the standard soda size for most of the 20th century." Not even. Until the 1950s, the only size you could get a bottled coke was 6.5 ounces, half the size of a 12-ounce can, a third of a 20 ounce bottle and tenth of a half-liter. The largest size you could get in the '50s was 26 ounces, but this was seen as a family size – an alternative to bringing home a six-pack of the little bottles. Now, with 20, 24 and 33 (half litre) bottles of soda, it's about a single serving.

I think an underlying problem is that the profit margins go up for larger sizes. The cost for the syrup is negligible; even for big bottles it's pennies. For a couple extra pennies for a bigger bottle (if that) Coke can charge 50¢ more. And for fountain drinks, where they don't have to distribute the end product (there aren't really economies of scale hauling around bigger bottles) the extra cost for a Big Gulp is almost negligible, which is why prices are often only a few cents higher – the few cents are all profit.

Another sees change in the other direction:

I haven’t seen this covered yet: the soda companies are currently experimenting with Coca-cola-coke-cans-90-calorie425wy101509-1255627949smaller size containers. I love my Diet Dr. Pepper, but 20 oz. a pop is really a bit too much in terms of caffeine and fizz-bloat. Lately, I’ve been seeing 16 oz and even 12 oz plastic bottles at select locations in my neighborhood convenience stores. I’m so happy about it I will just walk out of a store if they don’t have anything smaller than the giant 20 oz bottles. And if I get the chance I will tell the clerk why I left, doing my best to express the market demand for smaller serving size.

But unlike political structures, there’s no check or balance on the demand by the public for bigger soda sizes. It may be that a lower price point on a 16 oz soda will popularize the smaller size. I hope so. Because I think I’m very much in the minority on this issue. I am the 12% (body fat, that is).